Revisiting Some Archived Articles that Have Not Been Lost, but May Have Been Forgotten and Are Worth a Fresh Read
Original Post Date: July 8, 2011
The Challenge programs are appropriately named: they are a challenge. They provide many opportunities for students to do great things, push themselves further than they thought they could go, and step outside their comfort zones. It reminds me of a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., “Once the mind has been stretched by a new idea, it will never again return to its original size.”
How can you help your student stretch their minds and achieve great things in Challenge? First, keep in mind that even though you may drop off your students at their Challenge classes, you shouldn’t “dropout” of the job of being the teacher. Your role changes from that of the drill sergeant of Foundations’ memory work to being a mentor and advisor to your students.
If you haven’t read A Thomas Jefferson Education yet, read that first and pay particular attention to the role of Thomas Jefferson’s mentors. The mentors assigned books to be read and then spent the “teaching” time engaging in dialog about the texts. They asked questions that led Jefferson to think deeply about ideas and the consequences of those ideas. This is the model I use for my role as a Challenge Mom. I read the books assigned in Challenge over the summer; then, after my student has read the books, we have some great conversations about the big ideas that are introduced in the readings.
The books for Challenge are wisely chosen. In Challenge A and B, you’ll notice that the books have an emphasis on character: the values of hard work, self-reliance, and overcoming challenges. These are qualities that your student will need to succeed in Challenge, college, and all of life. Challenge A and B rhetoric books also provide lots of food for thought: the ideas of origins are deep and complex and should provide many great conversation starters at home. Dads especially enjoy these topics. Bring them up at the dinner table so that the whole family can listen and participate. Challenge I books are related to American history with an emphasis on freedom versus slavery; civilization versus savagery; and the bigger issue of what it means to be human -not only that, but what it means to be human in America, flaws and all.
If you aren’t engaging in some great conversations about literature, history, science, theology, and current events with your Challenge student, you are missing out on something great. The powerful combination of the Challenge books, your child’s tutor, and the essay assignments will set you up to have great discussions and give you the priceless opportunity to mentor your child-not just in the study of literature, but in the development of his or her character and in the development of leadership skills. Thinking through big ideas in the safety of your home, with your guidance, will prepare them to handle the conflicts that will undoubtedly arise in their lives as the future leaders of our country. Remember our children are royalty: they are the princes and princesses of our God who is King; they deserve an education which prepares them for leadership. Even if you do not think your children will be leaders in public office, they will be leaders at home, in church, and in their workplaces. Prepare them to lead well-just at Thomas Jefferson was prepared: through discussions about the big ideas.
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch is another valuable book that will help you understand what tutors are doing in Challenge. The main character, Nat Bowditch, was a child during the American Revolution and thus became an adult in the exciting but difficult period of building a new nation. He was born into a very poor family, and became an indentured servant, but managed to self-educate himself in navigation, astronomy, math, and several languages. While I wouldn’t advocate turning our children loose to educate themselves entirely on their own, we can show our sons and daughters how to do it-and how they will continue to do it throughout their lives after they grow up and leave our homes.
The classical model emphasizes the tools of learning so that children can be lifelong learners. Tutors will demonstrate the methods that Nat Bowditch used to educate himself. For example: he kept notebooks of his research, just as students will do in science in Challenge A; he taught himself Latin by using the Bible in Latin and a Latin grammar book; and he worked long hours and studied during every possible free moment, taking advantage of every opportunity to learn. Throughout the Challenge programs, students will build on these practices-creating timelines and research notebooks, presenting their research to their classmates, debating and speaking, and leading their seminar through Socratic discussions.
The real questions to put to ourselves are, “How do we motivate our students to want an education badly enough to really apply themselves as Nat Bowditch, Thomas Jefferson, and many others did?” “What did the people of 18th century America have that made them believe that one could (and should!) educate oneself?
There is no easy answer to this question. It certainly goes against our culture of pleasure-seeking youth and adults. It goes against our modern concept of “edutainment”-which is the idea that the student passively takes in information as long as it is amusing.
Is education only a ticket to higher wages with which to buy a bigger house and a better car? Or is it something more? Is it the thing that will ensure our freedom? Is it the thing that prepares us to discern what is right and good? Is it the thing that will help us to know God more fully and help us know how to glorify Him? Certainly in the past, the answer to the first question would have been a firm, “No,” and the answer to all the remaining questions would have been a resounding, “Yes!”
These are some of the conversations we need to be having with our Challenge students… not just once as a pep talk, but often. Each book we read in Challenge can help us address these questions. Keep the conversations going, read the books, mentor your children, and together you both can rise to meet the challenges.